Wes’s quote “I was becoming too ‘rich’ for the kids from the neighborhood and too ‘poor’ for the kids at school. . . . Thinking way too much in each situation and getting tangled in the contradiction between my two worlds” epitomizes his feelings about his constant role as the “other.” Much of Wes’s alienation stems from his mother’s decision to send him to Riverdale. As an attendee of Riverdale, Wes is different from his community—separated; this makes him feel isolated and caught between the two worlds of home and school because he does not truly fit in in either place.
Although attending Riverdale is a “privilege,” he does not feel that way. This is exemplified when he says, “My mother saw Riverdale as a haven, a place where I could escape my neighborhood and open my horizons. But for me, it was where I got lost.” Wes loses his identity as a tough kid from the Bronx, because a truly tough kid would attend public school, not a “white” school for rich kids.
In his neighborhood, Moore has friends—his crew. And yet while he has a sense of inclusion in the neighborhood, he will never really be part of it, because of where he goes to school. He develops different coping mechanisms to deal with the alienation. For example, Wes embellishes the story of his suspension from Riverdale for fighting as a way to gain street cred with the other boys in his tough neighborhood. But, while he is at school, Wes does everything he can to blend in and minimize his differences from the other students. The kids at school come from mostly wealthy families and live privileged lifestyles. On the other hand, Wes lives in a rough neighborhood and adopts a thug-like persona to survive street life.
Both of these scenarios give Wes a sense of inadequacy. As a result, his grades suffer, and his mother is disappointed in him. Rather than using the adversity he faces as motivation to rise above, he begins to head down a path of bad choices and excuses, although he does eventually head down a more positive road. This theme—of roads not taken—becomes central to the book.